The Stone-Hearted

63 - 64 Oontrom, Pass of 3820 - To Sail the Firesea
A bad decision.

After dispatching the giant and partially healing themselves the most logical thing the party of dwarves could do was to loot the castle. Blood stained, bruised and battle weary they made their way through the serpentine corridors and stairways taking stock of all the loot stashed away by the giant, some of it useful but most of too impractical to take with them. Dragor and Orlof were left to explore the throne room as they still hadn’t recovered properly from their injuries, so they were not there when the rest of the party ran into a group of Drow. Maybe the group was tired, or perhaps conquering the giant had filled them with a sense of invincibility, but they made what would surely turn out to be a bad decision and agreed to swap a member of their respective parties (a Drow warrior for Azgan) and set off to find the Soul of the Forge.

Unsurprisingly, the Drow warrior sent with them did as little as possible to assist them in their search, but he also seemed uninterested in attacking them which was a relief. Thanks to some dumb luck the dwarves eventually found the gem they were looking for, taking great care not to defile the grave of the giant’s mother where the Soul of the Forge rested. Apart from some sassy comments and unimpressed glares from their companion the trip to find the gem was relatively uneventful. Azgan did not fare so well.

In a completely predictable turn of events to Drow immediately targeted Azgan, first by the slightly more subtle poison and then by open attack. All he had to do was hold out until his companions returned, but as his ability to cast spells dwindled and his injuries mounted it became clear his situation was dire …

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59 Oontrom, Pass of 3820 - To Sail the Firesea
A close call

As Brodria stood before the fallen giant, surrounded by her dying comrades, she wondered again whether taking on this quest had been a good idea. Her fantasy of exploring unknown places and defeating a variety of foes had not exactly come to life in the way she expected, and she wondered what the point of being the best caver ever would mean if no-one lived to tell her tale. But it was a bit late for such musings and she herself was at death’s door with very little chance of recovery.

The day had not started well, narrowly escaping the jaws of a fire serpent only to be delivered into the blazing maws of a pack of fire hounds. But somehow, thanks to a combination of luck and Azgan’s magic, we prevailed. As we approached the giants tower, perhaps with too little care, Aeric and Dragor were suddenly buried underneath a pile of rocks (delivered by the giant from his window) and it became clear our battle weariness had left us open to attack. For what seemed like the thousandth time I had to stand by while the all too familiar family bickering took place but eventually our far too injured companions were forced to stay behind, and hopefully not get picked off by the two fire hounds we had not properly dispatched. With her usual careless abandon Ranina set off a series of traps just inside the main door to the tower, with one missile coming uncomfortably close to our injured friends.

In search of Snurre we set off through the corridors of his enormous castle, carefully avoiding the traps he had laid out. Well, we did carefully avoid them until Ranina acted on the impulse that I had simply thought to myself and lurched forwards to defile a statue. After fighting off the firebats that attacked us thanks to that flight of fancy we made our way once again down the great hallways in search of our ultimate foe (albeit very burnt and quite annoyed at Ranina.)

Considering the overwhelmingly ostentatious decor of the castle it should have come as no surprise to me that he would be ensconced in a throne room behind an enormous door and surrounded by flaming skulls and fire hounds, but I was still taken aback by the sight of him. The ensuing battle was long and painful, and as I saw my fellow dwarves drop one by one (I will never erase the sight of the brave and strong Uster being cleaved in two) I struggled to contain my despair. But at the last moment my faithful Dana delivered the blow which helped me dispatch Snurre and I then focussed on attending to the needs of my companions. This was by far our most desperate fight, on yet another side quest that pulled us away from our main goal. Well I guess it is their goal really. But I want to get to the end of this and then go home to my clan so they can sing songs in my honour and make toasts in my name for the rest of time. But right now I would like a long drink, a decent sleep and for someone to tend to my life threatening wounds.

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55 - 59 Oontrom, Pass of 3820 - To Sail the Firesea
Attack on the Island of the Fire Giant

Dear Reader

We found ourselves in front of a giant, bronze door. Jhornim had to speak some language with a knock on the door to open it. Eventually, it did open and what I saw was a marvel. Other dwarves! It seemed as if they were forged with fire and metal. And they wore kilts. That is very important information.

Invited in, we relaxed for a while until an Elder of the clan, named something, came to introduce himself and who his people were. Even in the Underdark, the political climate never seems to change. We were invited to feast, and by feast I mean drink the firewine they provided. There, we told our story and found out that father and his warriors took down the fire giant fort. I am often in two minds about the man. One, he left his family for what sometimes seems like a fool’s dream. All I know is stories of him.

We were informed that the species of dwarves they were originally came from the fire plane a millennia ago. Called Azers, they tended to keep to themselves. To be able to use their secret passage, of sorts, we had to do something for them. That something was to get their gem back from a rogue fire giant with a pack of hellhounds. Easy enough, right? The gem was called “The Soul of the Forge”.

We figured out what our metal orbs from the salamanders were called. They were called Orichalcum and they had fire energy absorption properties. It’s what they coated their boats with to survive the lava sea. Given the amount of orbs we had, we could get some equipment forged but it could take weeks. Not much use to us now.

Either way, Dragor thought now was the best time to tell Jhornim the truth. As far as I can tell, he utterly failed at breaking the news to him gently and as a result, almost got himself killed. Jhornim obviously felt betrayed and left soon after. I never liked the fact we lied to him but, outranked and outnumbered, I had to tow the family line and obey my king and brother.

The next day, we were rested and trained and ready to set out. We were joined by a fire dwarf, Uster, and before he spoke he was good looking. The more he spoke, the less attractive he became. That being said, he is a good warrior. It took a few days to get to the island where the fire giant resided but on the way we were set upon by a lava serpent. We barely managed to escape with a manic steam wind from Orlof.

The island we had to storm was a good old charge. We got as far as we could get and, with some fancy invisible traps from Azgan, stopped whatever tactics the hellhounds had. We killed them all whilst dodging boulders. Some did better than others in that department. However, some hellhounds retreated and the damned giant closed the doors on us.

It would take something ingenious to get inside and take the gem back.

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53 - 55 Oontrom, Pass of 3820: The Scorched Earth
Down the Black Steps to the Sea of Fire.

So this is what we have become; savages eating raw meat off the ground, too afraid cooking will attract unwanted attention, too scared to carry it with us in case it attracts predators.

After filling our bellies, staving off starvation for another day we glumly plod onward. The Duergar army ahead of us takes little care of covering their passing. Their arrogance is unsettling. Despite our cowardice, the little food we dared to carry with us attracts an under-dark denizen anyway. We stoically defend our lives once more before dragging ourselves further down toward our short-term goal, the Sea of Fire.

The descent is mostly easy going, this thoroughfare has steps and well worn lava-tubes, pre-set climbing ropes and permanent pitons aid our journey. Eventually the steps become more treacherous; smooth, glassy mineral growths cover the walls and our groups’ climbers are required to exhibit their skill.

At the base of the steps we encounter a paralysed duergar, lying motionless where he undoubtedly fell. Our paranoia again comes to the fore as we cautiously approach the possible trap. Initial assessments prove to be accurate however as the pathetic creature proves to be unable to move and mostly harmless. Our interrogations prove mostly fruitless although we are able to glean a more accurate count of the duergar forces. Once you are outnumbered more than 5 to 1, does it really make a difference if you’re outnumbered 10 or 20 to 1?

We continue on and just as we begin to feel comfortable with our slow, careful climb down we are accosted by a swarm of giant bats. Relentlessly they attack us on our precarious perches. They almost cause us to fall but in the end, teamwork saves the day and we prevent anyone from falling. Luckily the bats succumb to the sleeping sands of Dumathoin and plummet to their deaths. A fittingly ironic way for them to die.

We take a moment to rest, the next opportunity we have. Our group harrowed and bloody, don’t dare take more time than we need however and we quickly move on. The passage eventually opens up into a large chamber and we find ourselves on a ledge overlooking a baggage lizard and his handlers struggling to repair a broken load. They appear to have been left behind by their army and are in a good position for us to ambush them. Perhaps we have a chance against this army, if only we can whittle them down a few at a time.

Little planning or preparation is needed, this is a textbook manoeuvre, and we execute the ambush with the military precision of long-known allies. A quick reconnoitre reveals 9 grey dwarves and their beast. We set upon them with the ferocity of pent up desperation and frustration and quickly take the advantage in the battle.

The duergar rallied however and after the initial surprise proved to be a tough and worthy foe. An epic battle worthy of hundreds of years of retelling ensued; Dumathoin’s spiritual Mattocks zip around the battlefield and precision bolts burst through bewildered, blinking eyes. Duergar and Dwarf tactically shift in desperate attempts to flank and counter flank and epic leaps of faith become missiles of dwarven flesh and sharpened steel.

As the final duergar impales himself on hidden spiked stones, we loot the battle and claim the lizard for our own before continuing on to find the fiery sea.

It in almost indescribable; lava stretches out beyond the horizon, enormous land masses host underground cities and giants sail the bubbling ocean like fishermen trawling for tuna. The heat is immense. How will we survive it?

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44 Oontrom, Pass of 3820: The Scorched Earth
Escape From the Burning Lands

An uneasy truce settles over the room. The salamander retreats into the forge and the Dwarven heroes slowly relax. Aeric Forgekin rejoined his fellows and the dwarves took stock. The room was filled with the production of the strange black spheres and such a precious potential resource was not likely to be squandered by this group of industrial Dwarves.

Filling their sacks with metal, they then switched their focus to escaping the palace. Quickly they retreated to a disused storeroom to avoid any salamander patrol that could have heard them fighting. Hiding in crates and boxes they remained unfound. Azgan turned his attentions to the stone vent in the ceiling and created a portal through which they could escape.

After several long minutes of crawling through the ancient ventilation system, guided by Ranina’s talents, the group happened upon a chimney leading up and out. They sent up the best climbers to set pitons and ropes but alas, disaster. A rock fall split the group and trapped half of them in the vents.

They continued on, trying to find another exit when they stumbled upon a lair of Thoqqua. Azgan’s knowledge of the creatures was surprisingly good, surrounded by stone, his link to Dumathoin was strong. The creature struck with surprise and ferocity, it’s fiery maw scorching and singing. Azgan channelled holy power through his silver symbol – the multi-faceted gem within a mountain – and displayed the power of The Sage. Awestruck by the display of earthen power, the elemental ceased it’s attack and prostrated itself before the group. Azgan, not quite sure what had happened, could sense the worm in his mind. He thought about it lying down and stopping it’s attack, and it did!

The exhausted group of crawling dwarves continued on towards the portal chamber but as they approached, they found it guarded by a giant salamander, relaxing in a bath. They tried to sneak past it but were unable to avoid it’s detection for long. Rather than sit around waiting to be discovered, they decided to make a new tunnel leading out to a neighbouring estate. Azgan thought about the Thoqqua making them a tunnel and it hurriedly obeyed. So strange was the link he had developed.

They squeezed through the scorching tunnel and eventually made their way to a chamber where the ventilation tunnels exited. After a couple of slices, they were able to bypass the axe-trap and make their way into the chamber proper.

Hanging in the centre they saw a giant copper ring which they figured to be another portal of the dead mage’s creation. Embedded in the centre of the copper column was a giant worked gemstone of incalculable value. Naturally, their first goal became it’s recovery.

Unfortunately lying in wait beneath the portal was an entire colony of Thoqqua, thankfully asleep and unaware of the dwarven intrusion. They devised a plan of ropes and flying-foxes to retrieve the gem and escape to the far side, and were almost successful but alas the gem along with a sack of the mysterious metal was lost, but at least there was no loss of life. One other added bonus was a further follower of elemental earth was added to Azgan’s retinue.

The small group of dwarves and even smaller group of fiery earth-worms continue their search for their lost companions and escape from the burning lands from the relative safety of the far platform.

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44 Oontrom, Pass of 3820: The Scorched Earth
A thought that always helps - See, even in darkness

The Dwarf holds of Dalarrak are never entirely at peace. Too many denizens of the dark encroach on their borders for them to simply put down the axe in exchange for the pick. Still, sometimes the dark of their realm is quieter than normal. Sometimes the army has little to do. In these moments, the regiments gather and exchange stories. They share their hopes with their brothers in arms and look to their golden futures. Some dwarves tell tall tales of adventures from when they were young. Some though, tell tales of the future in the hope that it will inspire their fellows. Maybe, if they are lucky, they will remember a quiet word in the darkest of times. Maybe that will help them push through. Certainly, that’s the reasoning behind the tradition. To Orlof, there is always one tale he remembers. He’s not certain when he first heard it, but it always gets him to the other side of his madness. Helps him focus and put aside the voices when he’s at his lowest.

The recounting of the tale is always the same, whether he tells it or someone else does. Picture a small campfire surrounded by dwarven friends. Huddled close, with the dark pressing around them. One of the crowd shuffles forward.
“Our people tell of a time when the dark presses in and a foulness rears out of it clawing at our eyes”.
The crypt is cold and oppressive. The slow drip of water off in the distance keeps time with a small band of dwarves shuffling footsteps. Then, movement. Off in the dark. From behind, the sallow yellowed skin of a ghouls hand lashes out scoring one of the party. A scuffle ensues. Chaos everywhere. When the dust settles, the band of dwarves take stock. One of them speaks hurriedly, and then charges off into the darkness.
“Our people tell tales of the longest journeys, always scarred by insanity and torture”.
The small band of dwarves are in a different place now. Searching, one of their member missing. They come across a scene of madness. One Dwarf strung up; bloodied and burned; eyes rolling in his head from unspeakable torture.
“Our people tell tales of unstoppable retreat from unwinnable fights”.
The band hurry down tunnels of unworked stone. Off the sides of the tunnel are small offshoots. Scurrying about inside are critters and creatures with far too many legs.
“Tales of falling or flying, of crashing into the earth below”.
One dwarf plummets into the dark, tumbling through the air. Above him others fall but their descents are arrested by thick sticky webs. The one plummeting is slowed but never stopped. And then he is, slamming into a muddied pond. The water ripples out from his crumpled body.
“They tell tales of slaying villains and doing right”.
The dwarven band reunited; they stand against a horrid fetid toadstool like fiend. They slay the foul thing and flee, as the world around them begins to collapse in on itself.
“Our people tell tales of journeys spanning countless leagues of fire. They tell tales of delving deep into ancient tombs. They tell tales of defeating fiery foes and slaying hellbeasts. Our people tell tales of friends felled in such battles. They even tell tales of foolishness such as Marduk the Kinslayer. I tell you this though friends. Our people do not tell small tales of cowardice, for there is none of that in us. Our people tell tales of determination because we do not give up. Our people. Your people. We tell tales of our lives; they are vast and great because we are vast and great. Because we never give up”
_The band of dwarves stand. Bloodied and battered. Clearly at the end of their rope. Stuck in a small, burning hot room. Outside, the sound of slithering and crackling. The hissing of a speech they cannot understand. Each looks about desperately. Slowly, each one’s eyes turn to the only feature in the room. A small grate in the ceiling. A grin spreads slowly over each of their faces.
_

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Brodria's sweat soaked Adventure Log

As the pages dry out the text becomes visible. This log will be updated as the words appear.

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42 Oontrom, Pass of 3820 - The Scorched Earth
Gem Hunt

As the door slowly slid open and we entered the wizard’s domain, a booming voice appeared from nowhere, and everywhere. The voice welcomed us and challenged us to beat the labyrinth in order to become apprenticed or die.

Ha, do these wizard’s actually listen to themselves? His hubris, when we spill it out on the cold stones, will taste all the sweeter.

We were immediately set upon by a ghostly wraith, who, before we could even react had incapacitated our king. The apparition managed to drain some of us of our very essence before we could dissipate it’s energy and continue. It was decided that Brodria and Jornum would watch over Dragor’s unconscious form until we returned.

An obsidian cube waited at the end of the corridor with strange runes written on each side. As I leaned against the stone wall contemplating it, it occurred to me to touch the box and suddenly the symbols made sense to me. “OPEN ME.”

Within, a riddle, involving colours and positions. Pocketing the clue we pressed on. A corridor of blue and white tiles stood before us. Aeric discovered, by stepping on one, that the blue tiles were hinged and opened into the pit below and would have fell if not for Orlof’s quick hand. He did note, as he dangled, a copper door in the pit 20ft below.

More carefully we descended to enter the door. Within was the stuff of nightmares. Hundreds of bones, of all sorts of creatures, stood out from the walls and sickeningly swayed to some unfeeling breeze. I still don’t know how they talked me into crawling through that hell-tube.

Following our instincts we hopped through a room adorned with the symbols of the gods. Maybe we were lucky but we exited the room unscathed.

Aeric noticed a pressure plate at the next intersection and almost everyone managed to jump over it easily but unfortunately I stumbled and fell, setting off a trap before we were beckoned by the cries of a damsel in distress.

A statue of a water nymph pleading with us for a splash of water. Eager to flex their heroic, manly, muscles in-front of this skinny damsel, Orlof and Aeric fell over each other in their eagerness to oblige her and were rewarded with a fiery explosion and lesson in caution along with a shining green emerald.

Busy reprimanding me for my previous stumble, seemingly forgetting his more recent foolishness, Aeric stepped on another pressure plate causing the floor to fall out below us and send us sliding deeper into the dungeon. I guess exiting is a problem we’ll worry about later.

At the next intersection, Aeric boldy stepped onto the trap, challenging it to smite him as it promptly dumped litres of acid on his head. I think perhaps some acid may have slid into his ear and affected his brain.

Faced with 3 options, we chose a door and were faced with a puzzle. After a minor setback, we solved it and were rewarded with a beautiful blue sapphire.

Another door, another trial. This time a hallway ending in spikes. Luckily the pressure plate was spotted and the diamond prize retrieved without anyone being pierced by them.

The next chamber held a flint guardian on a stone bridge above a room of molten wax. Dumathoin’s knowledge granted me the idea of softening the bridge under the golem, sending him chest deep in the stone and clay and stuck, unable to attack us.

The passage beyond held 2 more doors. The one on the left, yeilded another chance for Aeric to spring a trap, which he promptly did, receiving another gemstone for his trouble. The one on the right held a gargoyle who, after much searching, opened into a passage beyond.

Before we entered the passage, however, the previously defeated wraith returned to feed on our souls again. We cannot afford to encounter it much further without falling to his deathly embrace.

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33 - 42 Oontrom, Pass of 3820 - The Scorched Earth
Ranina's Diary

Dear Reader

Salamanders. Avoid them at all costs.

I get ahead of myself slightly. We entered the burning lands and it was hot. Worse than I have ever encountered. Thankfully Orlof had a spell that could counteract the elements and five of us were able to benefit. We’ll have to take turns, but it’ll be worth it. The land here is devoid of all life. Nary an animal or insect to be seen or heard. Given how hot it was down there it’s not surprising. Surprisingly we managed to get quite far before we discovered a body of a dwarf. It had long since desiccated in the constant heat and was nothing more than a mummified corpse. But he was of dwarven blood so we did right by him and buried him, of a sorts. He did, however, have a letter with a map and a swallowed broach. The broach he wanted returned to his family, as well as news of his death to his descendants in Embla.

The letter told of a magic repelling shield within a labyrinth of caves and passages. It was worth finding seeing as we needed items for taking back our home. On our way towards the find, we encountered the salamanders. They are vile, hot and hard to hit. We fought our way through, but not without injuries. It seemed that as I was caught, one of the bastards all but crushed me to near death… I was unconscious for who knows how long but when I awoke it was to Dragor holding my hand and Orlof healing me. I have no idea how close to death I was, but with the worried looks I would hazard it was close.
We continued on until we can across a massive cavern… all but infested with salamanders and getting hotter with each step closer. Thankfully the consensus was to follow the map into the opposite caverns and go for some good old fashion treasure hunting. Brodria and I navigated the labyrinth and only came across one group of zombie walkers, which Azgan managed to fend off. All I remember is that they were created by dying of unquenched thirst and that they’d sap the moisture right out of us.
We got to the end and found the first dwarf’s brother inside. It was initially unclear what happened but by how we found lightening arcing around when a cube was knocked off a statue’s hand, it seemed obvious what happened. Searching yielded almost nothing until Brodria found a secret door. Naturally, we went in once we worked out how to open it. (Put the cube from the hand into the wall).

I’ll leave what we found as a surprise for the next entry.

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3 - 10 Oontrom, Pass of 3820: Into the Abyss
from The Tale of the Stonehearted: Final myconid battle recap

Now that the party was mostly back together they decided to help the Myconid with their fight against the illness that was destroying their community. Armed with a bottle of what appeared to be some kind of poison they headed off to what they hoped would be the final battle, still badly affected by their recent experiences. After trekking a fair distance to the giant Myconid ‘tower’ they fashioned a clever (although faintly absurd) disguise out of a zurhkwood cap and approached their enormous foe.

Having climbed to the top of the tower the group was ready to attack when the central Myconid (seemingly the source of all the trouble) convinced Dragor, Azgan and Aeric to collapse to the floor. Fortunately Brodria and Orloff managed to awaken their fallen comrades and fight off the waves of creatures that were summoned to destroy them, although there were moments when it seemed as though all were lost. Aeric managed to pour the poison where it needed to go and for a brief moment the dwarves allowed themselves to celebrate, only to realise their once stable platform was starting to crumble. Once again they were scrambling to save themselves and in the mad race to the relative safety of the ground it seemed several members of the group had fallen to their death. Fortunately Azgan created a safe haven for them at the last possible moment and, once again, it seemed as though the gods had smiled on them.

Joined once again by Ranina, Jhornim and Stump they traveled back to the Myconid king to give it the good news and hopefully receive some supplies in exchange for their efforts. After spending time harvesting a variety of mushrooms (with uses ranging from food to weapons to containers) the dwarves turned their focus to the next part of their journey. Jhornim warned them that the Burning Lands were worse than anything they had encountered so far but he was willing to lead them through as he continued on his quest for the Ship of the Night. The group counted their rations, repacked their bags with their new fungus based supplies and prepared themselves for the trials ahead.

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